What an ending to 2013. And it had nothing to do with geopolitical rumblings, health care, or anything of that type.
It had to do with a Facebook thread that made me want to put my fist through a wall.
On Sunday, a friend and former student named Champ (not his real name) posted a link on Facebook that was loosely related to the whole Phil Robertson-Duck Dynasty schmozz. The link in question was from a gay student at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, raising the issue of feeling "trapped" and unable to be their authentic self, of being persecuted by family and others in Bible belt northern Louisiana. Champ placed the link on Facebook to pose the question if Phil (of Duck Dynasty fame) had his civil rights violated for being suspended from the show. As one can imagine, the people who chimed in got off topic in a matter of nanoseconds.
I won't go through every line of cybertext responses (the number has grown to over 380 of them!), but several things were clear. One, most of the people posting on the thread would likely not label themselves as evangelical Christians. Second, there was a wide range of sentiments on the issue of homosexuality, but the balance of comments were in the "live-and-let-live" range, with additional queries about "why do Christians need to be concerned about it". Thirdly, and sadly, there was one person posting--a former colleague of mine named Bruce (again, NOT his real name), a rabid ultra-rigid Christian ideologue who used the thread as his own personal firing range to display just how wrong he felt others were.
Look, Bruce and I might hold the same view about if homosexuality is a legitimate lifestyle, but that's where the similarities end. Desperately trying to ensure there was more light than heat on this thread, I asked genuine questions of the others logging in. What can Christians do to engender more honest dialogue? Can't one disagree with a lifestyle but still like a person? What about all the junk and brokenness within a heterosexual Christian that gays have to put up with?
Anything for cleaner, more productive dialogue. Keep the tone even and placid. Invite options for thought. Pursue truth, not a knockout win in a debate.
Unfortunately, Bruce wanted none of it. He belittled other people's intelligence, tried to talk over people's heads, and overall treated others with very little of the spirit of Christ.
Not that there wasn't rancorous speech from others either, but Bruce--as I told my wife the next day--was making me embarrassed to be a Christian. I wish that wasn't the case, but it happened. Finally, Champ--after much time and warning--blocked Bruce and the conversation continued with a more civil tone.
Not that it stopped Bruce from posting on his own Facebook page, gushing chest-thumping pride that Champ had blocked him, saying "I guess my Christian witness was making waves."
Note to Bruce: Nothing you did helped there. All you did in attitude and speech was to drive people away from any attraction to the Christian faith. Yes, I Peter 3 says to "be able to give a reason for the hope that is within you", but the same sentence finishes with the words "but do this with gentleness and respect."
In fact, I felt I had more in common with Champ (who makes no profession of religious faith) and his fellow posting compatriots during the extension of the thread. What I discovered was that (not surprisingly) when you pose questions and invite people to put their beliefs in their own words with no threat of reprisal and no demand that they convert, they tend to reciprocate and listen to you.
What a concept, right? Actually, there's more.
I've been working on the sixth volume in my Cameron Ballack mystery series, but of course my finished production is well ahead of the publishing pace for now. Last night as I read Game of Thrones, I kept getting this nagging nudge about Champ's thread and that whole experience. I'm an Ethics teacher in Christian education. I write books. I also believe that instruction and understanding happen best when presented conversationally, creativity, and compassionately.
And thus, my New Years' resolution: There is virtually no textbook or book in general out there for students in high school, on the subject of Christian ethics that holds to those three C's of conversational, creative, and compassionate. That void is getting filled. By me. My mystery series can take a brief hiatus. This book needs to be written.
To Champ, for starting the thread, and to all of you who chimed in…thank you for the conversation…and for the inspiration to make a different type of impact.